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Norwin boys tennis seeks return to playoffs

| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Norwin Star
Norwin junior Mitch Atkins prepares to hit the ball during a match against Franklin Regional on March 14, 2014, at Franklin Regional High School.

The Norwin boys tennis team missed out on the WPIAL playoffs each of the past two seasons while relying on a large number of underclassmen.

With many of those players now older and more experienced, the Knights believe a return to the postseason may be in order.

Norwin began its spring season last week, falling to Franklin Regional, 4-1, in its section opener. Despite the early setback, the Knights still have high hopes for this season.

“We've had the same (goals) for the last couple years, where we want to crack into the top three and get into the playoffs,” coach Ryan Hornick said. “Based on what I saw (against Franklin Regional), we have a pretty strong chance. Last year, a lot of things would have had to go in our favor, and the year before that. But with the experience we have top to bottom, and just from what I've seen so far, it's a strong possibility.”

Although Norwin started just two seniors in its seven-player lineup against Franklin Regional, Hornick said it was an experienced group.

Much of Norwin's experience comes at the top of its lineup, where all three of the singles players have experience at the varsity level. The Knights used senior Jesse Hooke and juniors Nate Alford and Mitch Atkins at singles against Franklin Regional, with Atkins picking up a straight-set victory.

“We have a young team, but we have guys who have been around,” Hooke said. “They've been playing for years, (and) they've taken lessons. We have experience to help the guys that are just starting out.”

Junior Jordan Walk and sophomore Davis Kuhn teamed up at No. 1 doubles in the season opener, and senior Steve Phipps and sophomore Justin Baierl made up the other doubles team.

“From top to bottom, everybody's pretty balanced as far as their skill level and ability,” Hornick said. “We're solid top to bottom. I would say depth is going to come into play, and whether we can stay healthy through the whole season. That's going to be important.”

In order to break into the top three in the section, the Knights would have to knock off one of the playoff teams from 2013, Hornick said. Franklin Regional, Latrobe and Penn-Trafford earned the section's three postseason berths last year.

“We're going to have to beat one of those teams, whether it's Franklin Regional, Penn-Trafford or Latrobe,” Hornick said. “We're going to have to win the rest of our matches and then hopefully upset or knock off one of those teams at some point during the season.”

Norwin fell to 0-2 on the season with a 4-1 loss Monday to Penn-Trafford.

A playoff berth would mean a lot to the Knights, Hooke said, especially after the past two rebuilding seasons.

“It would definitely be a big step for our guys this year,” he said. “We have a very young team, and it would build confidence for them, building up in their final years playing.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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